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Harnessing Nuclear Fusion Could Provide a Safe Energy Alternative

First Posted: Feb 13, 2014 05:07 PM EST

For the first time in scientific history scientists have harnessed the power of nuclear fusion in a reaction that occurred in under a second. Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California recorded the successful reaction.

The burst of energy resulting from the reaction was not significant at all, but it was notable for being the first of its kind as well as for producing more energy than was originally put into the fuel. The harnessing of nuclear fusion is the same process that powers the sun. Omar Hurricane, the lead physicist of the experiment, was pleased with the outcome, citing the results as a "great step forward scientifically," in this CNN article.

The reaction also engaged in a process called "bootstrapping", which produces a heating effect that boosts energy output. Again, the reaction was relatively weak (compared to a skier traveling at about 36 mph), but the bootstrapping process revealed a clue to point scientists in the right direction to ultimately use such a reaction to provide abundant and safe power.

"It'll be a while before we address all the needed scientific challenges and then the engineering challenges to make it more practical, but we're excited," said Omar Hurricane. "This is kind of closer than anyone's gotten before, and it is very unique to finally get as much energy out of the fuel as was put into the fuel."

The bootstrapping process' main feature is its ability to increase the rate of fusion reactions. This occurs when alpha particles (helium nuclei produced in the deuterium-tritium fusion process) deposit their energy in the deuterium-tritium fuel. The alpha particles lead to an ignition, and it was recorded that higher fusion yields demonstrated the onset of bootstrapping.

Mr. Hurricane and his team hope to further pursue questions and clues that have been posited by this experiment, which is published in the online journal Nature. You can also read more about this experiment in this R&D Magazine article.

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